Common Litigation Support Issues

Digital-Age-1024x710I have been in the Litigation Support career field for the past 21 years and I have seen just about every type of technology issue and glitch possible with new ones occasionally popping up to test my abilities.  Litigation Technology has changed during this time and the problems I encounter change with the technology.  In this blog, I have come up with a few tips and tricks I have learned along the way:

  • “How do I play this?”
    • This is the most asked question I get now from the legal staff in regards to audio/video they receive.  When I first started, you had tapes.  With tapes, you knew what they were and how to play them.  Today, you get a disc or flash drive with audio and video files on them.  Usually, these files are not in a standard format so I have to figure out how to use third-party players to play them or download the correct (and approved) CODECs for the staff to review the media.  One of my constant “sermons” to the attorneys is to bring their attention to thinking of how they expect a jury to review the audio/video.  Many times they don’t think of this until the jury is deliberating and have to play the files.
  • Encrypting Discovery
    • This is a painful but necessary process for us now.  We have to be cautious of sending data out and safeguards to protect the information from accidentally getting in the wrong hands.  I have to tell folks not to include the password ON the media they send it because that kinda defeats the whole purpose in securing the data.  It is also a challenge when our encryption software doesn’t work for opposing counsel when they have McIntosh systems or some other issues which block their access to the data due to the encryption software we use.   We have to navigate around this very carefully.
  • Sound Problems In The Courtroom
    • Routinely I have paralegals reporting that they are experiencing feedback or other sound issues in the courtroom when connecting their laptops.  Court reporters will be the first ones to fuss about this problem and rightly so.  Any audio feedback inhibits their ability to do their jobs in capturing every word said in court.  Two things usually resolve this problem.  First, simply plug in the audio cable into the headphone jack of the laptop even if you aren’t using sound.  Leaving the audio cable loose or hanging free will cause some interference.   Second, plug an AC adapter to the power cord on the laptop.  In most cases, the power is too close to the audio ports and using the adapter adjusts the power so that it muffles the interference.
  • Processing Data
    • It’s always good to be on the front end when attorneys request data.  Doing so can save time and complications by ensuring you get the data in the correct format or simply know what’s coming so you can be prepared.   I have had people hand me SATA hard drives and ask me to review it.   Seriously?  A SATA hard drive?  I might as well be the Great Carnac.  It is essential that we enforce our Electronic Discovery policy so that we can avoid receiving a data dump.  E-Discovery is no longer something new and foreign anymore.  I am quite strict on people following our E-Discovery specs.  When I receive something, if it doesn’t meet our specs I return it.  You can only do this if you have a policy in place and communicate this to the staff.
  • “I have a hearing in 15-minutes….”
    • Yeah, this is something I don’t think we will ever avoid.  We have courtrooms that have absolutely no presentation technology so at times I will get this phone call from an attorney needing to play audio or video at a hearing.  I always wonder how these hearings pop up at the last minute but, as we all know, it does no good to complain about it.  We have to act and get it done.  It is very important to anticipate these situations and have equipment ready to roll.  In fact, I have a “mobility cart” nearby that is wired with a short-throw project and speakers that can be rolled to any courtroom at a moment’s notice.  Every office has those “last-minute” people so it’s good to know that when the time comes, you can respond.
  • Be open to new technology
    • If you are like me, you support people who can be resist to new technology.   We can’t be like that.  We must be willing to try new things that will make the work of our legal staff more efficient.  When we find something that works, we must sell it and be excited about it.  Recently, I was able to get an iPAD with TrialDirector and introduced it to the staff.  People have been resistant but once one or two paralegals have used it in court, they always want to use it now.

Okay, this isn’t an exhaustive list but a few things that are common and some things I have learned to deal with them.   Litigation Technology is constantly changing.  Advancements continue to be made so we have to stay on the leading edge of the technology to ensure our attorneys and legal support staff have the tools that will make them successful.  That’s also a huge thing to keep in mind.  I have met others who want to create some kind of competition with other offices or agencies.  A good litigation support or litigation technology specialist will keep their focus on the people they support and not get involved in some sort of technology arms race with other litigation support professionals.  We have to get the job done for the people who are in the front lines in our office.

One saying that I think is a good one to live by as a litigation support professional is:  “Failure to plan is planning to fail.”

Working With .VOB Files

In the various video file formats I have to work with in litigation, one of the most common are .VOB files.  A .VOB file is the container format in DVD-Video media files.  VOB (Video Object) files can contain digital video, digital audio, subtitles, DVD menus and navigation contents which are put together to stream the content of a DVD.

VOB
This is what a DVD-format video file looks like.

 

If you have a DVD and just want to play it, you will never need to know about .VOB files but when you have to convert it or capture clips from it you will need to find a way to do this.  Sometimes you can just simply play a .VOB file in Windows Media Player or Videolan (VLC) player separately.  There are times when you can simply change the file extension from .VOB to .MPG and it will work the same but it doesn’t always work depending on how the file is coded.  Although a VOB file is essentially an MPEG file, it could have additional data that might be needed.

Perhaps the safest way to convert a .VOB file is to use a video conversion program.  I sometimes use AnyVideoConverter.  Doing so will ensure you can keep it seamlessly and not risk losing any important information or any loss in quality.

If you need to convert a DVD to play in TrialDirector, there is a nifty program included which will make life easier.   It is called the inData Digital Video Disc (DVD) Extractor.  It is very easy to use and can export the output to MPEG-1 and MPEG-2.  This is a useful tool if your attorney hands you a DVD to put into TrialDirector.  This utility will extract the DVD format into a more user friendly form for TrialDirector.

DVDextractor
inData’s DVD Extractor utility helps convert DVD format to MPEG.

With an video conversion, you must always use caution that you aren’t altering the video file or degrading it in any way.  There have been some instances when I have converted a VOB file only to discover that the video and audio did not match up or the time code was missing or different than when the legal team reviewed the original DVD.  Also, you have to stress to the legal team to provide you with the video files with ample notice as sometimes conversion doesn’t always happen instantly.

20 Minutes

20

“Hey, I need to play a video in a hearing today.  The hearing is in 20 minutes.”

Yeah, I’ve gotten that one a lot.

When you are a Litigation Support Specialist in any law office, you are going to have these moments.  I have done this for over 20 years and I certainly understand the pain we must endure.   My problem has always been when these “last-minute” notices come from the same people every time.  My argument has always been, that you are enabling these people by responding to the lack of notice they give.  If you do it, they will do it all the time.

Don’t get me wrong here.  I know emergencies are part of the job.  It isn’t an emergency when people always fail to plan.  Most of these hearings don’t just pop up out of thin air and, usually, a hearing doesn’t just materialize in 20 minutes.

It takes a lot of patience to manage these situations.  The most important thing is to never take it personally.  We are here to perform a job and when they ask we are supposed to jump in and get it done.  It’s not always an easy thing to manage.  To be fair, issues do come up in cases that even the attorney doesn’t know ahead of time.  The problem is with the repeat offenders.  The best we can do is to keep communication open and continue to express the need for notice.

If something doesn’t work guess who gets the blame?   Yes, you guessed it.  Welcome to our world.

It always goes back to that saying:  “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”

So why do we have repeat offenders who fail to plan?

  • Planning is not a priority.
  • Lack of knowing how to plan.
  • Apathy
  • Planning is more work.
  • Resistance to change.

So, how can a Litigation Support Specialist manage these moments?

  1. Talk to the repeat offender’s supervisor.   When you do this, don’t go into the conversation aggressive or offensive.  Just calmly explain the issue and how important it is to have adequate time to properly prepare presentations with the equipment needed to be used in court.  Don’t case a blanket over everyone.  Give them the names of the offenders.  Even if the supervisor does nothing about it or blows off your concern, at least you have brought it to their attention.
  2. Have a quick-response plan.  If audiovisual support is needed, have a cart or equipment ready that can be rolled into a courtroom at a moment’s notice.  Have all cables and connectors on the cart.  Be the professional and do the job.  Never agree that this behavior is okay.  Sometimes people will apologize for the notice and it’s easy to just say “It’s okay” when it’s really not.
  3. Talk to the repeat offender directly.  Explain to them calmly how better it would flow if they did a better job at giving you more notice.  I try to explain the process of setting up equipment and making sure everything is working.
  4. Say “No”.  Yes I know this is a hard one because I’m sure you’re like me and you want to respond.  Sometimes you need to let them learn the hard way why it is important to give you more notice.   If you do this, be prepared to take some flak for it.

You want you and your firm to look good in court.  Planning for contingencies is an important part of doing that.  Obviously, you can’t anticipate every possible scenario.  Many times I have been asked endless “what if” questions.  My answer always is that we will just deal with it as it happens.  Our co-workers have to understand the importance of giving adequate notice in order to have quality work.  If they fail to understand that, it will eventually come back to bite them.  The key for us is to just do our best in responding and confronting the issue in the appropriate way.

 

 

 

 

Litigation Support On Call

hurry-man

One thing you can count on with litigation support is that you don’t always know how your day is going to flow.  There are some days that you can simply throw your schedule in the trash can.

To be sure, the one thing you can’t control is the lack of someone else to plan ahead.

I was reminded of that lesson this week.

Yes, this week.  The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day which is usually supposed to be the “slow” week.

I came in one morning and was working on a few projects when I got an urgent call that an attorney who needed to play a video in a court hearing.   It was 10 a.m. and the hearing was set for 10:30 a.m.   The courtroom, of course, had no presentation equipment so I got my cart that I keep ready for these situations and wheeled it down the hallway along with a projection screen.

I also pulled out my emergency necktie and sport coat and raced off to court.  It’s a good thing I keep those nearby.  I can’t say that everything matched but I was presentable and met the dress code for being in the courtroom with the attorney.

I quickly set up the projector and screen.  The attorney brought in the laptop and I had everything ready to go within 10 minutes.

Although I get annoyed with the lack of planning by others in situations like this, I know this is part of the job will never change.  The best thing you can do is be prepared for this to happen.  I was glad that I had the equipment on a cart and was ready for these contingencies.  After over 20 years doing this, you have to be ready.

Here’s what’s on my cart:

  • Projector with adjustable lenses (because you just don’t know what the projection angles will be)
  • Remote Control for projector
  • VGA cables with audio
  • Extension Cord
  • Cord covers/gaffer’s tape
  • Laptop power adapter (attorneys usually forget them)
  • Portable projection screen

In addition to the equipment items, I usually keep a few sport coats hanging on the back of my door and a neck tie in my bag that match my clothes I’m wearing that day.

As far as the court hearing goes, the video played without a hitch and no one knew the anxious moments leading up to the video being played.

 

 

 

 

12 Days Of Trial Prep

Most litigation technology specialists who have been in this field for a number of years can identify with these “12 Days of Trial Prep”…..

(sung to the tune of “12 Days of Christmas”)

On the first day of trial prep
my attorney gave to me:
A bipolar fed-er-al judge.

On the second day of trial prep
my attorney gave to me:
Two clueless agents,
And a bipolar fed-er-al judge.

On the third day of trial prep
My attorney gave to me:
Three defense attorneys,
Two clueless agents,
And a bipolar fed-er-al judge.

On the fourth day of trial prep
My attorney gave to me:
Four students scanning,
Three defense attorneys,
Two clueless agents,
And a bipolar fed-er-al judge.

On the fifth day of trial prep
My attorney gave to me:
Five——–days ‘til trial,
Four students scanning,
Three defense attorneys,
Two clueless agents,
And a bipolar fed-er-al judge.

On the sixth day of trial prep
My attorney gave to me:
Six screwed up hard drives,
Five——– days ‘til trial
Four students scanning,
Three defense attorneys,
Two clueless agents,
And a bipolar fed-er-al judge.

On the seventh day of trial prep
My attorney gave to me:
Seven messed up CDs,
Six screwed up hard drives,
Five———days ‘til trial
Four students scanning,
Three defense attorneys,
Two clueless agents,
And a bipolar fed-er-al judge.

On the eighth day of trial prep
My attorney gave to me:
Eight guards a-snoring,
Seven messed up CDs,
Six screwed up hard drives,
Five——- days ‘til trial
Four students scanning,
Three defense attorneys,
Two clueless agents,
And a bipolar fed-er-al judge.

On the ninth day of trial prep
My attorney gave to me:
Nine gigs of emails,
Eight guards a-snoring,
Seven messed up CDs,
Six screwed up hard drives,
Five——— days ‘til trial
Four students scanning,
Three defense attorneys,
Two clueless agents,
And a bipolar fed-er-al judge.

On the tenth day of trial prep
My attorney gave to me:
Ten Banker’s Boxes,
Nine gigs of emails,
Eight guards a-snoring,
Seven messed up CDs,
Six screwed up hard drives,
Five——- days ‘til trial
Four students scanning,
Three defense attorneys,
Two clueless agents,
And a bipolar fed-er-al judge.

On the eleventh day of trial prep
My attorney gave to me:
Eleven hours of video,
Ten Banker’s Boxes,
Nine gigs of emails,
Eight guards a-snoring,
Seven messed up CDs,
Six screwed up hard drives,
Five——- days ‘til trial
Four students scanning,
Three defense attorneys,
Two clueless agents,
And a bipolar fed-er-al judge.

On the twelfth day of trial prep
My attorney gave to me:
Twelve angry jurors,
Eleven hours of video,
Ten Banker’s Boxes,
Nine gigs of emails,
Eight guards a-snoring,
Seven messed up CDs,
Six screwed up hard drives,
Five——- days ‘til trial
Four students scanning,
Three defense attorneys,
Two clueless agents,
And a bipolar fed-er-al judge.

Deciding On Scanning Paper In-House

document-scanning7

Although it isn’t as often as it was in the past, there are still times when we must do something with scanning paper documents.  Most attorneys have no clue what is involved in getting paper converted into electronic images.  There are a lot of factors involved in this process.  You can’t always just load up the scan and press scan.

Here are some things to consider before you decide to tackle a document scanning project:

  • Do you have the time to commit to scanning?  This isn’t a project you can simply add to your multi-tasking.  You have to be alert and focus on the project.
  • Do you have the right equipment?  You may have to use a flatbed scanner for some documents.
  • How much do you need to scan?  Trust me on this point…do NOT let an attorney give you an estimate on how much.  Look at the project with your own eyes first.
  • What are the condition of the documents?  Will you have to remove staples?  Are the documents bound?  Are they various sizes?
  • Scanner settings.  It’s not always once-size-fits-all for the scanner.  There may be some documents where you will have to adjust the brightness and color.  You can’t just rely on having it all set to automatic.
  • When is the deadline?  Set reasonable goals.  Don’t try to impress anyone with short, unrealistic deadlines.
  • Just scanning the paper is not the end.  There is time needed for reviewing the images to make sure they were scanned correctly.  You may or may not need to put your eye balls on every single image but plan in this time to your project.
  • Bates numbering.  Decide before you scan the first page how the documents will be numbered.
  • Don’t advertise or brag about the project when you are finished.  Sorry, but no one cares unless you want MORE scanning projects.

Deciding to scan documents in-house is a very time-consuming project.  It is also VERY boring.  Don’t make it where you have to sit and scan non-stop from the time you arrive until the time you leave work.  Scan documents in chunks.  Give yourself breaks.   Scan for an hour or two in the morning and then another 1-2 hour session in the afternoon.  This will keep you fresh.

If you delegate this duty to a student or intern, don’t just dump it on them and forget about it.  Stay on top of the project and check the work.

It is rare to still have to scan paper but when you do, you need to develop a good plan to get it done.  Hopefully these pointers will help you.

Most Memorable Moments in Lit Support

trial_support_04

Officially, I have been doing this line of work since 1996 and over the past 20 years I have been involved in hundreds of trials.  This experience has given me some memorable moments that I will not forget.   Here are just a few:

  • While awaiting a verdict from the jury, I was packing up some equipment that we used in the trial.  The defense attorney said, “Mr. Hooper, good job.  That was some good technology the government used.”   His client sitting next to him added, “Yeah man, that was pretty cool.”    He was later convicted of conspiracy, making false statement and wire fraud.
  • During a break in the trial, the main defendant in a prescription drug trial walked over to me and asked how much the equipment costs that I was using.  He said, “I would like to buy one of those to use to teach my Sunday School class if I am not in jail.”    He didn’t have to buy one since he was convicted on 32 counts of wrongfully distributing prescription drugs.
  • Sitting at the table during a huge conspiracy trial, one of the attorneys whispered to me:  “Get the tape ready.”   Puzzled, I asked:  “What tape?”   They apparently had not informed me that they were going to play a videotape of a fire for the next witness.  I grabbed the tape and rushed down to the post office and found a VCR where I cued up the tape then rushed back into the courtroom in time for playing the tape.
  • A defendant representing themselves is always quite entertaining.  In one of these trials, the defendant started referring to me as “media man” until he learned my name.  It was the same as his.  He spent a few minutes on that until the judge told him just to refer to me as the Government’s Technical Expert instead of my name.
  • In a very sensitive case, I had to set up separate monitors for the jury so that the gallery could not see the evidence that we were going to present.  As the trial started, the defense attorney complained that the monitors were in his way of seeing all the jury members.   The judge rejected his statement and said “I have instructed Mr. Hooper to set up these monitors and if they are in the way then you need to move.”
  • In a death penalty case, I had spent all morning setting up the equipment and was having trouble with the monitor in the witness stand when the judge decided to come in early.  I had to stop and return to the table not sure if the monitor would work then when it came time, I pressed the button on my control panel and it worked.  Whew!
  • In preparation for closing arguments in one of the longest trials I had ever been involved in, I set up the PowerPoint presentation that the attorney was going to use.  After setting it up, I had to go to another courtroom to set up some equipment.   As I was leaving, one of the observing attorneys asked:  “Aren’t you going to stay?”   I answered:  “No, I have another courtroom to go to right now.”   He asked:  “What is something goes awry?”   I responded:  “Then it goes awry”
  • In the middle of another prescription drug trial, I got a message that our attorney was having problems with the document camera.  I walked in, pushed the on button and left.   I heard several jurors snicker as I passed on the way out.
  • In the boring stretch of a trial of a cult leader, I switched my computer and killed the display to the monitors and started playing solitaire.   The judge was smiling at me and then I realized that I hadn’t killed his monitor.

Yes, there has been several entertaining moments in this job.  I assume that I can handle stress pretty well since there have been many moments that challenged me.  There are many more moments I’m sure that I will think of later that I forgot to include in this list.  Many times they refer to the time in the courtroom in this job as being in the “hot seat” and it is clear why.   It doesn’t matter how much you prepare, there is always something new that is going to blindside you sooner or later.